P o s i t i o n
Keeping the Hotline Warm
September 11th and EU-Russia Relations
Iris Kempe - March 2002
Six months ago, Russia's President Putin was the first foreign leader to express sympathy and solidarity with the United States following the attacks on New York and Washington. Using the hotline established between the two superpowers during the Cold War, Putin said Russia is with America and against the terrorists. Based on this position, Russia contributed several kinds of support for the Western military action in Afghanistan, and an air corridor for the flights of American aircraft was provided. Furthermore, Russia stands in for American interests in its Central Asian Alliances and supports the West with intelligence information. In addition to supporting the US, Russia also acts in its own direct interests, particularly in Central Asia and the Caucasus where it has to prevent potential terrorist threats.
Apart from military and strategic action, Putin has been opening new
windows of opportunity for relations between Russia and the West. Russia's
short-term signals surprised the international community, but in the half
year that has followed, the long-term tasks have come increasingly into
focus. Putin's most significant foreign address on both short and long-term
developments was his speech given in the German Bundestag at September
25th in Berlin. He started by highlighting the worldwide background to
the tragedy of September 11th and continued with the need to build a new
security architecture. In doing this, he suggested strengthening European
integration but also thinking in a wider, i.e. pan-European security context.
Russia's new strategic approaches
Taking lessons from history seriously, one has to consider that East
and West have collaborated before under the pressure of common enemies
and threats, but, for instance, after the end of World War II co-operation
turned very quickly into the new confrontation of the Cold War. Furthermore,
at least some doubts should be considered about the support for Putin
among the Russian elite. The strongest criticism is formulated by Communist
and/or Nationalist representatives, who are comparing Putin with Yeltsin
or Gorbachev. Beyond radical positions, even analysts and politicians
who usually support Putin are much more sceptical now. Even if they do
not criticise, they have started to brick up the new windows of opportunity
with wish lists for compensation. The list starts with understanding Russia's
military action in Chechnya. The bombing of apartment buldings in Moscow
and other Russian cities in summer 2000 is once more propagated as a terrorist
attack from the Caucasus, even if any kind of official proof is still
missing. The intervention in Chechnya is portrayed as fighting against
terrorism, and the West should support it instead of constantly criticising
Even if Putin's position is not shared by all members of the Russian elite, he is supported by reform oriented representatives, such as the member of the Russian state Duma Vladimir Ryshkov, or Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of Carnegie Moscow. They mostly share the position of a new window of opportunity of Russia's external relations and internal development. Under this assumption, the EU is of growing importance for Russia and the events of September 11th have an impact on almost all areas of co-operation between Russia and the European Union.
Challenges for Partnership
Since Russia started to widen its perception of the EU from a purely
economic player to a political actor, Russia has been interested in security
co-operation with the European Union. The intention is connected with
Russia's concept of a multilateral world order. In this concept, the EU
is seen as an alternative to a US-dominated world. Therefore, the Russian
government has been welcoming the strengthening of the EU's Common Security
and Defence Policy, but did not agree with the western security concept
that strengthening European security and defence co-operation is part
of transatlantic co-operation.
Partnership of modernization
If Russia keeps the door open to being a western country, it has the opportunity to transform itself from a historically great power to a prosperous European nation. This transformation would decide a fundamental Russian debate about self-definition between being a superpower on the one hand or being a successful modern state on the other. If the reaction to September 11th leads to the latter approach, Russia's future development will further co-operation with Europe.
The European Union and its member states fulfil several conditions for
a modernisation partnership. The EU is costumer number one for Russian
exports, and with about 40 percent amount of foreign direct investment,
the EU member states are the biggest direct investors in Russia. The Union
is also the largest provider of technical assistance to Russia. Furthermore,
supporting the Central and East European candidates states through the
combination of becoming members and rule-setting for internal development
from the outside is a unique success story for stabilising transition
processes. If Russia is setting new goals for its transition, the Union
should use these experiences to stabilise internal Russian developments.
Potentially, the EU policies of the technical assistance program TACIS
and the humanitarian aid office ECHO can
The events of September 11th are also a new impulse for economic co-operation between Russia and the EU. This very area was the beginning of Russia's co-operation with the EU. The Union is the most important trade partner for Russia, and the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement signed in July 1994 already contained the option of a European free trade area. The trade relations between Russia and the European Union are dominated by Russian energy exports. On the one hand this trade structure is of mutual interest, but on the other hand strengthening the energy-based economy allows Russia to postpone further modernisation.
September 11th has an additional impact on Russian-European economic relations. At the Brussels summit in October 2001 Russia and the European Union declared the creation of a Common European Economic area. The guidelines are restricted to the idea of bringing EU and Russia closer together, to removing obstacles to trade, investment and transit and to paving the way for negotiations on Russian WTO accession. A clear concept of designing a common European economic area is still missing, but nevertheless it might be a fresh impulse to extend security related co-operation towards a widespread partnership. Taking into consideration requirements of Russian modernisation the economic relationship should go beyond energy exports from Russia to Europe.
In order to define the impact of September 11th on EU-Russian relations one should consider three aspects. First of all, the internal Russian discussion has been dominated by US and NATO related issues; second the discussion is not finished; and finally, Putin in his clearly post-Cold War styled policy is not being supported by all Russian decision makers and analysts.
The crucial question remains to what extent the consequences of September 11th will go further than single-issue short-term action toward impulses to strengthen integration and co-operation between East and West. Taking into account all the threats and challenges to Russia's current position, the most important task is to transform tactical co-operation in sustainable partnerships between Russia, Europe and the United States. These partnerships have to be based on widespread numbers of actors and can not be limited to security-related issues. At this very point the problem of belonging to different kinds of societies plays a significant factor, and the alliance can by no means limited to common security interests. While Western societies are consolidated democracies, market economies and pluralistic civil societies, Russia is still under transition from authoritarian rule toward Western modernisation and pluralism.
The current situation can be best described as a window of opportunity.
If Russia continues its policy of becoming a modern European country,
the EU is challenged to have a growing function. In the fields of modernisation
and economic co-operation, the EU is already a strong actor - its role
as a security and defence provider still has to be improved. While September
11th has already had some considerable consequences for relations between
Russia and the West, even after six months it is still too early to asses
the sustainable impact on EU-Russia relations. Future developments depend
on Russia's strategic choice for further modernisation and the EU's capacity
and capability to be a security and defence actor in the international